Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Sayonara Interviews: Android-Human Theatre

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Sayonara Interviews: Android-Human Theatre

Article excerpt

Featuring a life-like humanoid robot, Seinendan Theatre Company (Japan) brought their performance Sayonara: Android-Human Theatre to Melbourne in August 2012. Geminoid F, an android, starred alongside Canadian actress Bryerly Long, in a performance that asks the question: What does life and death mean for humans as opposed to robots?

Sayonara is an internationally acclaimed short play that tells the story of a young girl facing a terminal illness and her caretaker robot that reads poetry to her. Written by award-winning playwright Oriza Hirata, in collaboration with robotics specialist Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, Sayonara is a fusion of art and science.

Oriza Hirata is one of Japan's leading playwrights and directors, and his company Seinendan has toured throughout Japan, North America, Europe and Asia. Hirata has collaborated extensively with the ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communications Laboratory and Professor Ishiguro, director of Robotics at Osaka University, who is noted for his achievements in robotics, which include creating an android clone of himself called Geminoid. A female version of Geminoid, known as Geminoid F, performs in Sayonara.

In this season, Melburnians were the first to see the extended version of Hirata's play outside of Japan, which featured an entirely new second act performed in English and Japanese.

Gorkem Acaroglu conducted interviews with the key members of the creative team directly after their first performance in Melbourne, on 24 August 2012.


Gorkem Acaroglu: Why did Professor Ishiguro approach you to make a play with a robot and an actor?

Oriza Hirata: Seven years ago, I moved to Osaka University. Around that time, the president of the university introduced me to Professor Ishiguro, because I told him that I wanted to make a play using robots. It was great timing, because Professor Ishiguro had already made a play for experimental purposes using his students. He wanted to create a robot that made us question the distinction between robots and humans. Professor Ishiguro was collaborating with psychologists and psychiatrists to understand what makes human beings human. He often says to me that he believes artists have already answered this question, and the professor's job is to interpret our work.

Gorkem Acaroglu: What was the breakthrough that Professor Ishiguro had with you and the actors?

Oriza Hirata: In terms of language, it is timing and the space between the dialogue of the performers. In terms of movement, it is the wasted movement, unconscious levels of movement, movement that is not necessary. We call it 'noise' or 'micro sleep', and a lot of robot technicians know that these things are important, however nobody knows how much noise or micro sleep to include in the movement of robot language. But playwrights and directors know how much movement is necessary.

Gorkem Acaroglu: What have you learnt about making the robot appear to have emotion?

Oriza Hirata: I am an artist, so first of all, 1 have great pleasure in doing something that no one else has done before, but 1 still don't know what sort of potential or capacity this play or inclusion of a robot will have in the future. I feel like I'm climbing up a mountain that no one has climbed before, and I don't know how high this mountain is.

Gorkem Acaroglu: When you watch the show, do you get a sense of what it's bringing to theatre - seeing a robot and human on stage?

Oriza Hirata: One thing I've learnt is that there are so many films with robot characters. Film is a totally different experience to theatre. It's become clear to me that, in theatre, the human doesn't have to act because the whole experience for the audience is to share a specific time, space and atmosphere -the audience can almost touch the actor. All this is more important than the fact that the human being is acting, so in theatre it's possible for a robot to act. …

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